RANGELY | Jim Rogers is the boss.
“You have to assert your dominance and make them realize they’re not the dominant animal,” Rogers said.
With his latest project, Rogers had to prove early on who was in charge.
Since March, Rogers has been training a wild horse for a competition called the Extreme Mustang Makeover. He will be one of 40 trainers who will compete this week in the two-day event Friday and Saturday at Colorado State University at Fort Collins.
Rogers met his horse for the first time March 5 in Canon City. He started working with the 4-year-old gelding the next day.
“They had run him through the chute, gave him his shots, wormed him … other than that he hadn’t had a thing done to him,” Rogers said.
The first time Rogers faced the horse, there was a showdown. Rogers won.
“He hadn’t even been halter broke. In fact, the first day I got him, he came after me,” Rogers said. “I just stood there. That’s when you establish your dominance, right there. With herd animals, that’s pretty much what you have to do to establish their pecking order. I tapped him on the end of the nose and got him to turn. Then I started pushing him. That was the beginning of where we’re at now.”
Rogers has been working with the horse every day, reminding him who is in charge. During the course of training, horse and rider have become quite close.
“You bond, you really do,” Rogers said. “I don’t know how to explain it, other than the fact you are his leader. Once you establish that … yes, they will try to change that dominance factor around. You have to be on your guard as far as what they’re doing. Some will nip at you. If you don’t correct it, it can become a problem right away.”
The horses for the competition were rounded up in Nevada, part of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse herds. The BLM estimates that about 29,500 wild horses are roaming on BLM-managed land in 10 Western states.
“It’s just a random draw,” Rogers said. “The horses were just chosen out of a random draw. They have different roundups throughout the western states, which is primarily where the wild horse herds are.”
Rogers and his horse have been getting acquainted with each other ever since.
“They have to get to know us, just like we have to get to know them,” Rogers said. “I’ve worked with wild horses before, but this is the first competition I’ve ever been in. I’ve never even done any arena competitions myself. My background has been just ranch work.”
Rogers decided to enter the competition after friends encouraged him to give it a try.
“I had several people who have seen me work with wild horses before and they said I ought to try it. So I did,” he said. “You have to send in an application. It requires references, a background check, you have to write an essay. I really didn’t think I would get accepted.”
But he was one of the trainers selected by the Mustang Heritage Foundation to participate in the Extreme Mustang Makeover.
“The Mustang Heritage Foundation is constantly searching for dynamic ways to introduce horsemen and women to the true value of the American Mustang,” said MHF Executive Director Patti Colbert.
Trainers have about 90 days to prepare their wild horse for the competition in Fort Collins.
“They started with 50, but we’re down to 40 for various reasons,” he said. “There are about 20 from Colorado. There’s one from Georgia, some from Texas and North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah.”
Rogers named his horse Smokin’ Joe.
“We kind of had a little competition on Facebook,” he said. “That’s the name that got the most votes.”
The horse stands 14 hands high.
“I’d like to see him another hand higher,” said Rogers, who stands 6-3. “He’s just a little bit small for me.”
But what the horse lacks in size, he makes up for in other ways.
“I would say he has heart and stamina,” Rogers said. “He packs me around, and I put him through a lot of maneuvers, getting him used to different obstacles.”
Every day, Rogers could be seen putting the horse through his paces at the arena at Columbine Park. In some ways, training a wild horse is preferable, he said.
“To a certain extent, it’s easier,” he said. “You’re starting with a cleaner slate with a wild horse. They don’t have any preconceived notions that someone has instilled in them. They are just doing everything off of instinct.”
Rogers came to Rangely three years ago from Lamar when he helped to start the horsemanship program at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
“But because of budget cuts, they laid me off a year ago,” said Rogers, who was later laid off from W.C. Striegel when work slowed down in the pipeline industry.
But it gave him time to participate in the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. Rogers has been around horses for most of his life.
“My father was a ranch foreman in my younger years,” Rogers said. “I’ve been training for about 30 plus years. There’s not too awful much that bothers me on a horse.”
The finals of the Mustang Makeover will be Saturday night. On the day after the competition, the horses will be put up for sale to the general public. The trainers can bid on their horse, if they choose to.
“Yes, I will bid, up to a certain extent,” Rogers said of Smokin’ Joe. “He has the mindset, I wouldn’t mind having him. He’s a little small for me, but my son, James, 15, would probably ride him.”
At the Mustang Makeover, Rogers expects his horse will hold its own against the competition.
“I think he will perform very well,” Rogers said. “He can perform all of the patterns they’ve asked him to exhibit, and more. I guess it will depend on what the judges want to see. We’re ready. I think he’s learned a lot. I think he will show really well.”
Regardless of the outcome, Rogers has enjoyed the experience of training a wild horse for a competition.
“He’s got a personality,” he said. “I laugh every day about something he does.”
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For more information about the Mustang Heritage Foundation, visit www.mustangheritagefoundation.org or call (512) 355-3225.